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History of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

The first pressurized room used to treat health problems was built by an Englishman named Henshaw in 1662; however, it was not until more than a century later in 1788, that compressed hyperbaric air was put to large scale use in a diving bell for underwater industrial repairs of an English bridge.

A French iron shop in 1834 built the first hyperbaric tank under direction of a physician named Dr. Junod. A copper sphere five feet in diameter with the appropriate viewports and compressed air fittings was used successfully with many patients. Hyperbaric enthusiasm spread among the European countries during the next 40 years. Sick people came from America to try the new therapy.

The first North American hyperbaric chamber was built in 1860. Progress continued through the early 1900s. 

In 1918, Dr. Orval Cunningham considered the difference between people living or dying through the flu epidemic in the Rocky Mountains.

He noticed people in the valley fared better than people in the mountains. He reasoned that denser air in the valley helped people fight the infection. Cunningham had an 8 foot by 30 foot hyperbaric chamber built next to his medical clinic. Good outcomes with patients suffering from pneumonia encouraged him to build other chambers. Cunnningham built the world's largest functional hyperbaric chamber, a 64 foot steel sphere "hyperbaric hospital" with five floors of living space. The Great Depression of the 1930s ended his project and the steel was scrapped for the war effort in the 1940s.

Harvard Medical School had a hyperbaric chamber built in 1928. It provided a university based medical research program. In the last four decades, great stride in HBO2 research has raised the value of this unique therapy. University studies have expanded the list of conditions usefully treated with compressed oxygen.

Physicians used to ask, "Can it work?" Now they ask, "How much is needed to completely work?"